Love them or hate them, meetings are important. They’re a big part of how we get work done, how we run our business, and how we collaborate. And if you’re like me, you’re in meetings a lot, which is OK by me since I run Cisco’s WebEx business!
But there is one thing that drives us here at Cisco crazy about meetings. In fact, we were bothered by it so much that we took it upon ourselves to do something about it.
What was it? Background noise: keyboard clicking, dog barking, doorbell ringing. And then there was the potato chip guy… munch, munch, munch. Incredibly annoying! Beyond being annoying, it turns out that background noise can affect your concentration.
“Researchers have found that environmental noise—background music, city sounds, people’s conversations—leads to a decrease in performance for most people,” according to Fast Company. “But the good news is that many of those sounds are easy to tune out, making even small reductions likely to improve our effectiveness.”
Certain types of background noise are OK depending on the situation. Nature sounds can actually help me focus on a specific task. But, add chirping birds to a meeting, and I will not have the same positive reaction. Unwanted background noise is very distracting. You can lose your train of thought. It can impact the point of your presentation. Or worse, you can come across as unprofessional.
WebEx recognizes knocking, typing, sirens, and barking dogs. Once detected, it prompts you to mute your microphone. That’s it. Simple.
We wanted to fix this problem. Well, at least for WebEx participants – we can’t help you with the person sitting next to you with the potato chip obsession. So our engineers got to work. Using machine learning, WebEx can now detect background noise and prompt you to mute your microphone if you have called into the meeting from your computer. Lots of innovation for a small feature but with huge benefits!
Coming in the next couple of weeks, sounds like knocking, typing, sirens, and barking dogs are classified as background noise by WebEx. Once detected, you’re prompted with a pop-up message to mute your audio and microphone. That’s it. Simple.
With more people sending audio through WebEx than any other online meeting service, we have built up a thorough understanding of the most common (and annoying) forms of background noise. We use artificial intelligence to examine the meeting audio and pattern-match it against these known annoyances. The result is the simple, but powerful suggestion, that maybe you’d like to mute your microphone. You’re welcome.
So, when you’re “that guy” and you realize that you need to mute, do you mute your headset, or mute the WebEx app? And when you need to speak up – do you remember which one you used? We addressed that, too. Now you can mute and unmute your headset and desktop audio at the same time. With just one click, you can jump back into the conversation without any hassle. No more starting to talk and hearing someone say “are you still on mute?” just as you were getting to the good part.
By making meetings less distracting, meetings become more focused, and therefore, more effective. And since we all have plenty of other things to do, a focused, effective meeting experience can only help us be more productive.
What’s next you ask? Besides muting the potato chip guy, our engineers are finding new ways every day to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to make meetings better. This is our humble – but extremely valuable – start to seeing a generation of “smart meetings.”
Learn more about WebEx and the new features.
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August 25, 2017 at 1:38 pm
Let’s see, the “boring” analytics could be the count of how many attendees clicked into another window while a person was speaking. Now, there’s an idea. Of course, you’d have to build in the intelligence to recognize things like: football season, attendee location in Wisconsin, game day.
August 22, 2017 at 7:58 am
Awesome and useful feature for sure! Another annoying thing I’ve noticed lately is meetings kicking off later than the actual start time to accommodate the habitual slackers. Let’s get back to starting meetings on time folks and not punish the ones that make the effort to join on time.
August 17, 2017 at 5:54 am
This is a great feature – thanks for adding it. I have another suggestion for implementing a feature in WebEx that I have recently got in my new cordless Plantronics headset. It’s a “mute warning”. If the headset’s microphone detects that I am talking while I have its mute button switched on, it whispers a message into my headset’s earphones reminding me that I am on mute, and suggesting that I might want to unmute myself. Now I recognize that not everyone is suddenly going to rush out an buy such a headset, but this same functionality *could* be implemented in WebEx … provided the user used the WebEx mute function rather than the mute function on their local phone/headset. The WebEx team would need to advertise this feature prominently so that users migrated to using WebEx mute rather than local mute, but if it were adopted widely we’d also get rid of the inevitable deathly silences followed by a “sorry, I forgot I was on mute”. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a WebEx when at least one person has ended up talking into their mute button! Combining this feature and the WebEx automute on annoying background noise would make a really powerful combination.
August 17, 2017 at 5:07 am
Great development in the right direction. There is an uncountable number of background noise types, that could have impact to meetings’ quality. Maybe there’s a way of real time analyzation of any sound that comes to the micro, and the SW/machine filters for your voice and lets this through only? I (dog owner) am really looking forward to these features 🙂
August 16, 2017 at 2:53 pm
In the case of a user who is not paying attention to their webex session screen (such as doing other work, etc.) or perhaps has physically stepped away from their session, suggest a slight modification to this feature … Instead, have the dialog box state something like: “We’re detecting background noise from your microphone … Please mute your mic and/or push the ‘Got It / Thank you !’ button below.” “Otherwise, if we don’t get a response from you in the next 15-seconds, the system will mute your line.” 🙂
August 16, 2017 at 1:30 pm
this is super – can’t wait to see it in action! that’s gotta save $ by not wasting time discussing who’s line is that? What I’d really like is to be able to have Voice Distinction so that my audio is recognized, even if I am in a room with other people (instead of room-phone with host ID).
August 16, 2017 at 1:28 pm
Well, for those who attend meetings from India, the challenges are not just dogs. Car/Bike horns, 24x7x365 The street vendors shouting out their items The kids screaming/playing on the streets The baby in the neighboring house crying, loudly The lady next door running her blender at full speed The grandpa upstairs ringing bells during his prayers Telephone ringing in the next room All these sounds come through clearly during the webex meetings. Would love to see all those noises suppressed 🙂
August 14, 2017 at 8:12 am
thank you Dave T for your interest. The approach we have taken is to implement the voice detection client side. The first release will detect non-voice patterns originating from the desktop client. We are evaluating server side detection down the road. I hope that helps. Jens